Recently, I received an inspirational newsletter from Zoe Wishaw, a mentor to professional photographers who has compiled a list of meaningful tasks for us to do during the ’C’ word lockdown. One thought struck a chord, it relates to what we reveal about our photography, the narrative that we hope will interest visitors to our web sites. Here it is;
“Is your ‘About’ text really saying something about WHY you do what you do, not just WHAT you do?”
I believe that I’ve understood my own ‘why’ for a while and I'd like to share what motivates my approach and perhaps what may encourage you to visit and photograph people and locations where significant events in your family’s history have taken place. A number of things can happen.
(A) Unforeseen and unexpected photo opportunities may arise – in other words, serendipity – trust your luck.
(B) A sense of connection and an understanding of place may stir and enhance your creativity, I’d be surprised if it didn’t.
(C) Knowing from whom and whence you have come may be combined with understanding your place on the roadmap of photography when drawing on the legacy of the great masters who have inspired and informed. Fuse the two and when normality returns you can have something really powerful.
For what it’s worth, here is my WHY.
Islington, where I grew up does not qualify as part of the East End of London, yet in my formative years, I felt an affinity with the area that persists today. In my teens, the purchase of my first electric razor (second-hand) was from a stall on Club Row Market, I remember the occasion well. My bike was propped up against a wall when a man picked it up, bounced it to see if the tyres were OK and started to wheel it away. He didn’t get far and with a nod, acknowledged his transgression and disappeared. A gentle, aspiring tea-leaf.
It took too long to renew my acquaintance with the area, that happened when I started looking into my family background. I discovered a great, great grandfather, born in Yorkshire about 1827 who enlisted in the Grenadier Guards at the age of nineteen. George Duncan served for 21 years in the Grenadiers, a period that included a spell in what was then British North America. An incident at sea, the so-called ‘Trent Affair’ brought Britain and the United States to the brink of war. Ten thousand troops were quickly mobilised to defend the colony coveted by Yankees who had hopes of northern expansion after the end of the Civil War. Cool heads prevailed, peace broke out. In places like Montreal, British troops and especially the officers, enjoyed a period of leisure, exploration, rifle shooting competitions and holding soirees and balls. George left the army as a Colour Sergeant with a good record and at over six feet tall with a military bearing, found employment as a rent supervisor at Columbia Buildings in Bethnal Green for the then famous philanthropist, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. Having survived the rigours of army life, George succumbed to pneumonia in the gate house of The Buildings at the tender age of forty-four in 1870. Proximity to the notorious nearby slum, The Old Nicol with its miserably low life expectancy rates may have been a factor.
Good woman that she was, Angela Coutts supported the family and later, many of his children returned to the East End on the passing of his wife had moved to Shepherds Bush after George’s death.
My next connection is courtesy of my grandparents who arrived separately from Ukraine in the early 1900’s. A furrier with ‘differences’ with the Czar, my grandfather married my grandmother in Whitechapel in 1911, my father was born two years later. They settled in the area just south of Aldgate East station where their house was subsequently destroyed by a WWII bomb. Fortunately, the family was not at home.
I trust my earlier rationale makes sense and hopefully it conveys my relationship with a very special place coming together with a real sense of belonging. I hope the work on this site conveys that association. Much writing about photography is prescriptive and for gear-heads. Buy this camera, acquire this lens, do this and your photography will improve in leaps and bounds. I’ve tried not to follow that path here, These are only suggestions, just describing what works for me. What's your's?